Jan Tait and the Bear

“A medieval folk tale from Shetland, it blends the grotesque with the adorable, in the shape of a furry bear who melts the heart of the rebellious adventurer. Witty, beautiful songs performed by Ensemble Thing and some gross-out humour means it transcends easy categories. With wonderful performances by Alan McHugh, Catherine Backhouse and Brian McBride, directed by Stasi Schaeffer, it is one which will run and run- get there early and say you saw it first.”

Lorna Irvine – The Tempohouse

“Jan Tait and the Bear, by composer-librettist Emily Doolittle and co-librettist Peter Guy… delightfully reinvents opera as a casual form of community storytelling, based on a folk tale from the Isle of Fetlar in Shetland.”

Gregor Forbes – The Cusp

“Jan Tait and the Bear turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, just under an hour in length, and entirely suitable for all ages of audience. The description of it as a new comedic chamber opera is just about right. It was clear that the substantial audience packing the intimate theatre space in the Centre of Contemporary Arts, and containing a high proportion of young people, thoroughly enjoyed the piece.

The clever instrumentation provided plenty of interest, with an eclectic mix of styles – atmospheric classical blending beautifully with elements of folk from fiddle and accordion. There was even the odd snatch of Gershwin-style Broadway melody.”

Stephen Fraser – Opera Scotland

all spring (CD of chamber music by Emily Doolittle, performed by the Seattle Chamber Players and Friends)

“…this is music worth waiting for, a set of works that all have a disarming charm, an organic, almost rustic sort of modern feel.

All five works have the personal Doolittle stamp upon them. The music often has a whimsical quality, well paced, organically modern tonal, spun out with a cohesively inventive narrative sequentiality. Each work has a distinct identity.

If you were to try and pin the ancestry of this music to the influence of forebears you might as I did think of the chamber neo-classic phase of Igor Stravinsky, but that mostly in the pacing, not the tones themselves. Nonetheless Emily Doolittle stands on her own ground, rather delightfully so. Recommended listening.”

Grego Edwards – Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Reviews

“Le langage musical de Doolittle est consonant et souvent bien ancré dans une tonalité plus ou moins traditionnelle. Cela dit, son originalité se dévoile principalement dans la délicatesse de ses couleurs instrumentales et la souplesse de son inspiration mélodique… Un disque idéal pour qui veut découvrir une compositrice à la musique légère, colorée et très accessible.”

Éric Champagne – La Scena Musicale


green/blue opened with bold, colourful chords before a solo violin took the theme with the other strings and the rest of orchestra joining to create a lovely harmony, pointed up by the woodblock. It had a distinctive North American rhythmic quality showing the composer’s interest in dance and traditional music. The music reached richer chords before rising to a peak with a myriad of orchestral colours. The rhythmic nature of the music increased before reaching a tremendous brilliance high in the orchestra. For all its repetition this was music that was constantly changing and evolving, perhaps in this sense reflecting nature. There were some fine moments for brass, before quietening to a brief pause to allow an oboe to bring a plaintive theme over the orchestra creating a quite wonderful texture. The other woodwind wove the theme around the oboe, before a sudden orchestral outburst, after which the theme from earlier in the work tentatively returned, building in tempo and dynamics throughout the orchestra and rising to a climax before another pause and a final chord.

This is an impressive work full of colour and ever evolving ideas.”

Bruce Reader – The Classical Reviewer

A Short, Slow Life

“except for Emily Doolittle who chose to do a cryptic note and leave the music to speak for itself.

And does it ever speak. Her interpretation of “A Short, Slow Life” keeps you on your toes for the entirety of its 9-plus minutes. The musical whirlwind that comes after the line “along the dark seam of the river” which ends in a silence pierced by a dialogue of a couple of woodwinds, which then grows to include the other instruments while the vocal line prevails over all that stirring with the beautiful echo-y melody – is but one of the details in this piece. Further along, she achieves great effects by sculpting out the musicality of a word for everybody to see, then finding it a mirror/dance partner among the instruments.”

Lillas Pastia – Definitely not the Opera

“As I was listening to the Doolittle piece, I had the particularly odd experience one has when the evening bird and insect sounds outside suddenly become very active. These fit so easily into the piece, I actually had to stop to be sure they weren’t part of the recording.

Fitting, then, that Doolittle’s note mentions her interest in natural imagery and soundscapes, both of the poem and of Nova Scotia and Seattle, where both Doolittle and Bishop spent time. The piece was even effective with the window closed.”

Erin Heisel – American Record Guide

“For me, the piece on the CD that grabbed me by the heart was Emily Doolittle’s setting of the shortest poem of the ten — “A Short Slow Life”…

It’s amazing what [Doolittle] did with that poem. I mean, because it was a short poem I was kind of imagining a short little piece, and it’s not that at all. Somehow she rhythmically did very interesting things, and with repetition. There is melody as well, but it’s somehow a poem that is like nature or something, it’s just — a little leaf here, a little fluff of something there — and not unlike, actually Bishop was a painter as well, and not unlike the way she may have painted nature herself.”

Suzie LeBlanc and David Perlman in conversation – The Whole Note

Social sounds from whales at night

“In Emily Doolittle’s Social Sounds From Whales at Night, we are often unsure where actual recordings of humpback whales end and Helen Pridmore’s vocalism begins — an eloquent and effective way to deliver this work’s message of the seamless continuity between life forms on Earth. The humpback’s songs (or calls or conversations) translated into human vocal music provide Pridmore with the opportunity to display her very accurate microtonal ear.”

Nic Gotham – The Whole Note

Airs of Men Long Dead

“Nova Scotia-born composer Emily Doolittle’s Airs of Men Long Dead was selected by Huang for its roots in Norse mythology and its innovative utilization of voice and piano. The work cast a hush over the auditorium the moment Hamper began lightly, yet ominously, tapping on the front of her piano, as if knocking on a door. Huang joined in with a voice both rich and evocative; as she filled the listener’s mind with images of dimly-lit cabins and moonlit winter skies, one could only observe in awe as the duo transported an entire audience deep into the past.”

Paul McCulloch

falling still

Mackenzie returned for the first work in the second half, Emily Doolittle’s falling still, a haunting study inspired by the sounds of the natural world – in this case a “blackbird singing against the gently changing background sounds of light rain at dawn”. Such a description might bring to mind aspects of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, but Doolittle’s short tone-poem owes nothing to that Englishman’s original masterpiece. Hers is a very beautiful work, the shortest of the evening’s pieces, drawing the attentive listener in such as way as to invite – if not demand – quiet contemplation and sympathy. In many ways, this was the most purely musical work presented here, which also received what must have been an exemplary performance. The composer was also present.

Robert Matthews-Walker – Classical Source

…falling still is a powerful, gorgeous work for oboe and strings. From the very start, the piece is gripping and eloquent. Throughout its six minutes, falling still maintains its almost hypnotic atmosphere. The strings – other than one short section where they come to the fore – frame the oboe with transparent chords; and the oboe holds forth, singingly. This moody and memorable quartet would be a great addition to many recitals.

Jacqueline Leclair – The Double Reed

Four Pieces About Water

Halifax’s Emily Doolittle came last with her beautifully melodic and deeply felt response to water – running, salt, frozen and rain. Combining echoes of Stravinsky’s asymmetric rhythms and hints of the sonorities of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, she infused her work with the sense of nature we sometimes encounter in Murray Schafer’s works – an authentic and moving evocation of Canada’s wildernesses.

Stephen Pedersen – The Chronicle-Herald

Zoomusicology Research

UK Sunday Mail/Daily Record: ‘Real life Doctor Dolittle’ sings to seals off the Isle of Bute… then turns their howls into music, 2017

San Francisco Chronicle: SF Girls Chorus to premiere Doolittle’s ‘Song of Seals’ in U.S., 2017

Noisey UK (Vice Magazine): Do Birds Respect Human Musical Scales, 2014

Audubon Magazine: Dr. Emily Doolittle on the Music of the Birds, 2014

Orion Magazine: The Piccolo and the Pocket Grouse, 2013

Vice Magazine: An Earnest Exploration into the Musical Merits of Jazz Wolf, 2012

BBC Radio: Interview, Start the Week with Andrew Marr, 2010

Evidentia: Five Questions for Emily Doolittle (part of a CBC Documentary by George Tombs), 2009

Hermit Thrush Research

Smithsonian Magazine: This Bird’s Songs Share Mathematical Hallmarks With Human Music, 2014

Huffington Post: This Little Bird Might be a Better Musician than You, 2014

CBC Radio: Interview, Quirks and Quarks, 2014

BYU Radio: Interview, The Morning Show, 2014

Musician Wren Research

The American Scholar: Almost Human, 2013

Der Standard, Austria: Zaunkönig am Amazonas klingt wie Bach und Haydn, 2013

Science Daily: I’m singing in the rainforest: Researchers find striking similarities between birdsong and human music, 2013

Upcoming Events

  • The Craft Ensemble will be performing falling still on February 3, 2018 at 7:30 at the Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA
  • The St Andrews New Music Ensemble, conducted by Bede Williams, will premiere Conversation, with words by Eleonore Schönemaier on February 21, 2018 at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, Scotland, as part of St Andrews New Music Week
  • Oboist James Turnbull will be performing Social sounds from whales at night on February 25, 2018 at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, Scotland, as part of St Andrews New Music Week.
  • The Midlands Chorale, conducted by Daniel Galbreath, will be giving the official premiere of Three Summer Wassails, with texts by Forrest Pierce on March 24, 2018 at the Catholic Cathedral in Shrewsbury, UK.

Recent Posts